As creators, we are consumed with finding ways to speed up our journey. We optimise, maximise and streamline. We’re on this funny old highway called “Life”, surrounded by other little artistic automobiles, all trying to reach our glorious artistic holy place called “Made It”. We’ve heard how great it is there, and we’re tired of driving, so we look for ways to accelerate. Ways to increase our speed.
But when we’re driving in a real car, we know that the best way to get there is to maintain a steady speed. We know it’s a long drive, but we don’t question it. We put on some tunes and stock up on snacks and hit the road. We only accelerate if it’s safe and comfortable to. You can be moving fast without accelerating. Cruising at a safe, optimal speed is the driving holy grail. We know that speeding is bad.
This is true for creators, too. We’re forever looking at the other cars on the highway, seeing them speed past us and wondering how the hell they’re doing it. Why can’t we do that? We only see the small section of their journey, and we have no idea how long they’ve been on the road or the pace of the rest of their journey. We have no idea where they are from or where they are going. We have no idea if, in their furious stop-start pace, they’ve had to take much longer breaks or have been pulled over by the police. We only know that we wish we were moving as fast as them.
But, when we’re in a real car, cruising is easier. We can have an acceleration of zero but clearly see we are still moving at 70mph. Artistically, when we take our foot off the gas and hit cruise control, it can be harder to measure our progress and we’re tempted to put our foot back down on the pedal until our muscles cramp. But if we can learn to trust ourselves, cruising is fine. Cruising is healthy. Cruising gets you to where you need to be just as fast as driving in on-off bursts. No one drives their art-mobile with their pedal constantly to the metal.
We (rightly) fear stagnation, but stagnation doesn’t come from slowing down, it comes from stopping. Stagnation is in the overall speed, not the rate of change. You can decelerate and still move forwards. Stagnation only happens when we come to a stand still or, heaven forbid, we start driving in reverse down the highway. But it sure as hell doesn’t come from dropping to a slower speed- that’s still moving forwards.
Now I’ve milked this metaphor for all it’s worth, I want to translate it into healthy advice. Shift your focus away from how quickly you can increase the speed of your journey and instead find the speed at which you can most healthily work. When I was employed in a 40+ hour per week job, I would berate myself for only putting 5 hours a week into my art. But you know what? That was still moving forward. I was crawling in the slow lane, sure, but within 6 months I improved more than I had done in my whole life. Neat! If I had worked harder, I’d have had to stop more frequently. 5 hours a week was my pace, and that was enough.
Your cruise speed will be incredibly personal and you shouldn’t let the journey of others make you feel bad about it. Maybe you like bursting, maybe you like slow and steady. Maybe you have other commitments, or maybe your work energises you and long, hard days make you happy. But whatever that pace is, don’t ignore it. Find your own optimum and work with it. Know your steady pace, and know the cost of pushing it. And don’t forget: your journey is the only one you see in its entirety.